George Carter

Former St. Bonaventure star George Carter, who still ranks ninth in program history in scoring average (19.4) and second in rebounds (12.5), died on Nov. 18 at age 76 after a battle with cancer.

ST. BONAVENTURE — Mervin Hyman, in his weekly recap for Sports Illustrated, called it “shocking.”

Larry Weise said he’d “never seen a club so determined … just fantastic.” Mike Kull singled it out, imploring a reporter to “look that one up. That’s a good one.”

Whatever the adjective to describe it, the St. Bonaventure men’s basketball team’s 97-58 trouncing of Canisius on Feb. 1, 1967, left both a monumental and umutable mark on a program that has made for so many indelible moments over time. It was, perhaps, the marquee victory in the season just before the Bonnies’ NCAA Tournament campaign of ‘68, one of the highlights before the advent of their most golden era.

And George Carter was at the center of it.

Carter, the four-sport star from nearby Silver Creek, was Bona’s leading scorer in two of three varsity seasons and their top rebounder in all three campaigns. Fifty-three years after playing his final game in a Bona uniform, he still sits ninth in program annals in scoring average (19.4 points) and second in rebounds per game (12.5). His penultimate contest against hated Little 3 rival Canisius was a microcosm of that production.

The 6-foot-5 swingman piled up 30 points and 17 rebounds to lead the onslaught against a good Canisius team, one that started the season 8-1, came in 10-4 and had Tournament aspirations behind star guards Andy Anderson and John Morrison. His was part of a devastating low-block effort with Billy Butler, who went for 33 points and 15 boards.

The duo, by every account, had its way inside against the helpless Golden Griffins. Kull remembers vividly just how good, just how relentless, Carter was around the basket. It’s among the first that comes to mind when thinking back on his old friend, teammate and floormate, who died on Nov. 18 at age 76 in Las Vegas after a bout with cancer.

“I just used to marvel at him,” said Kull, who overlapped with Carter in that 1966-’67 season, from his home in Hamburg, “with the bodies flying and his rebounding and his second and third efforts.

“Canisius came down (the year they opened the Reilly Center) … they were good. They had those Dunkel ratings, and (Canisius was an 11-point favorite) and we beat them, 97-58. George lit it up that night, I remember.”

IT’S ONE of the few misconceptions from, almost inarguably, the second-most successful pro career of any Bona player.

Carter never actually played alongside hoops great Julius Erving.

But he was part of a trade for him.

In 1973, after a strong season with the ABA’s New York Nets, Carter, along with $750,000 and the rights to Kermit Washington, was sent to the Virginia Squires for Erving and Willie Sojourner, bringing the former Bona star back to where his professional career began in earnest when he signed with the Washington Capitals (who became the Squires) in 1969.

That’s just one of the many compelling accounts involving Carter, whose accomplishments range from his All-Catholic selections in the 60s to his appointment to Bona’s All-Time Team last December.

Carter held the scoring mark inside the freshly-minted RC (with his 35 points in a 99-80 victory over Manhattan on Feb. 13, 1967) until it was beaten by Bob Lanier, the only player to rank ahead of the relentless forward in rebounding average. He’s the only athlete in Western New York history to be taken in each of the NBA, NFL (by the Buffalo Bills) and MLB drafts, selected in the latter two despite not having played those sports since high school.

And he was once moved from the ABA’s Carolina Cougars to the New York Nets as the latter deemed him a worthy replacement for Rick Barry, who’d been ordered to return to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors (Carter averaged 19 points for the Nets in that 1972-’73 campaign).

“They probably had his high school films, you know? He was good enough in high school,” Kull said of Carter’s remarkable feat of being drafted in three major sports.

“He was one tough rebounder. He used to rebound and outlet, and a lot of the times he’d finish — he’d come down the court and he’d be the trailer and he’d get the bucket. He was really something; a great guy too, just a terrific guy.

“Sometimes being a sophomore (Kull was a sophomore starter in Carter’s senior year) is kind of young; you’re thrown in with the big guys, so to speak. And I’d just marvel at him — guys flying all over and I’d say, ‘man, I’m not going underneath. That’s not for me.’”

EVEN BEFORE their time together, Kull knew that Carter was special.

A fellow Western New Yorker, the 6-foot-1 guard, while at Bishop Timon in South Buffalo, had read up on Carter’s storied career at Silver Creek, where he led the Black Knights to three Section 6 Class B basketball championships, quarterbacked the football team and won a sectional title in the 100-meter dash.

He thought Bona had nabbed an excellent recruit. Then he became good enough himself to be brought in as Carter’s teammate. It was no surprise to Kull, then, what Carter was able to accomplish, both during and after that 1966-67 season, when both lived on Devereux Hall’s second floor.

Carter was selected in the eighth round (81st overall) of the 1967 NBA Draft by Detroit and played exactly one game for the Pistons before having to leave to serve a two-year military obligation. He then embarked upon a seven-year ABA career in which he played for eight teams, logged impressive career averages of 17 points and eight rebounds and was named an ABA all-star in 1971.

He concluded his prosperous pro career in France in 1976-77.

And on Feb. 1, 1967, he helped guide the Bonnies to that resounding victory over Canisius, one that turned the collective head of the college basketball-watching world and one that Bona had desperately wanted to win for teammate Jimmy Satalin, who the night before had undergone a scary (but successful) 10-hour surgery “to correct a vascular condition adjacent to the brain,” an injury which had sidelined the star guard for the season.

“I’d have to say this was my greatest Little Three win (to date),” a jubilant Weise, Bona’s sixth-year coach said afterward, before later adding, “Of course Billy and George were just fantastic. Everybody played well, but I’ve never seen George and Billy so determined. I’ve never seen a club so determined. The way they operated was just fantastic.”

It was one of the many moments that helped make Carter, still 25th on the program’s all-time scoring list with a three-year total of 1,277 points, a Bona basketball legend.

“He was the best athlete that I’ve ever seen,” said Kull, a member of the Bona team that made the Final Four three years later. “And he was one rough son of a (expletive), boy. He was tough as nails.

“Off the court, though, not a jerk. He didn’t want to fight anybody, he was quiet … and he was a gentleman off the court. It wasn’t this getting drunk and punching guys, and some of those guys are like that, you know? But not George. He was just a terrific athlete.”

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